Bill Seeking Down Time for Soldiers Fails

The Senate's paper-thin Democratic majority is resuming its uphill push this week to force a change in President Bush's Iraq policies.

Many Democrats saw a measure requiring more rest time for troops between deployments to Iraq as their best bet to garner enough GOP votes to beat a filibuster. But despite some last-minute concessions from that measure's sponsors, it was defeated last night.

This was not the first time Virginia Democrat Jim Webb proposed his amendment forcing the Pentagon to give troops more time off between deployments.

Four Votes Short

In July, with votes from seven Republicans, Webb's measure fell just four votes shy of the 60 needed to get past a filibuster. This time, Webb toned down his measure to attract even more Republicans.

Webb also pointed out that Congress, on many other occasions, has used its constitutional powers to set rules for the Pentagon.

But Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has made winning in Iraq the focus of his bid for the presidency, deemed Webb's proposal unconstitutional. He dismissed it as a backdoor attempt to speed up troop withdrawals from Iraq.

Sen. Warner Changes Vote

Two three-star generals and senior White House officials reinforced that idea in meetings on Capitol Hill Wednesday with a number of wavering Republicans. Virginia Republican John Warner voted for Webb's proposal in July. But after his meeting with the generals, the senator announced he would vote against the measure this time.

"I say to my good friend from Virginia, I agree with the principles that you've laid down in your amendment, but I regret to say that I've been convinced by those in the professional uniform that they cannot do it and do it in a way that wouldn't invoke further unfairness to other soldiers now serving in Iraq," Warner said.

The six other Republicans who voted for Webb's measure in July did so again Wednesday night, but no other Republicans joined them. Once again, it fell four votes shy of the 60 needed to prevail.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had harsh words for his GOP colleagues.

"To stop the majority of this body from acting shows yet again that most of my Republican colleagues are much more concerned about protecting their president than protecting our troops," he said.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) insisted the vote showed people are taking a second look at winning in Iraq.

"A hard, hard road lies ahead, but I think we've got a shot at winning a war we can't afford to lose. And the only way we're going to lose it is here in Washington, and we avoided a vote today that would surely have led to us losing this war," Graham said.

Senate Democrats, for their part, seem to have given up on reaching out to Republicans on Iraq. They now plan to bring up a series of Iraq-related measures all likely to garner even fewer GOP votes.

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